So, I was at a party a while back and there was this guy chatting to some girls in a lovely American accent. And I thought, it’s so nice, all the multi-culturalism we’re experiencing down here lately, but then later on when he wandered into my periph and I asked him what part of the States he was from, he told me he was born in Nelspruit but that when he left college he lived in Chicago for nine months. Nelspruit? Nine months? Okay, something is very wrong with this picture.
Now, I understand very well the seductiveness of Americana. When I was 10 I regularly had conversations with myself in the mirror in a phony American accent because, in those days, everything American was cool and everything South African was stupid. They had The Cosby Show and CHiPs, we had Trompie and Blitzpatrollie. They had cool presidents and a Star Spangled banner, we had P.W.Botha and Oranje Blanje Blou. It just wasn’t ayoba to be from here. And it was devastating to me that my parents couldn’t see the error of their ways, pack up our belongings and go somewhere fabulous, like Idaho. Because any back-water town in America had to be better than Somerset West.
I also wanted to wear normal clothes to school, go to the prom, be in a sorority (not that I know what that means to this day) and drive at the age of 16. I just knew that in America I would be something. But, happily, I grew up and was lucky enough to travel and while I love the US with a capital ‘l’, and if I had to live anywhere else in the world it would probably be there – I mean, who else puts bacon on a cake? – I’ve also learnt that America is just a place like any other, and while it’s really, really good at marketing itself, real-life Americans are just ordinary people, and for all the hoo-hah surrounding this nation, can be surprisingly conservative and parochial in their thinking.
Which makes me curious about why some of us are so eager to leave our roots behind and take on this identity. Danish actress from the eighties, Brigitte Nielsen, had barely been in Hollywood for five minutes when, in an interview on Danish television, she asked the host to please speak English as she ‘couldn’t remember’ Danish. Huh? Then of course there is Charlize who we can’t get cross with because we love her so much, but must she talk like that all the time? Nicole Kidman still speaks like an Aussie, after all, and everyone understands her perfectly.
I guess, somewhere in our psyche, we’re still a bit shy about coming from a country which institutionalized racism right up to the nineties, and we’ll always have a slight inferiority complex about being on the arse-end of Africa and not having been allowed to buy Levis. But the truth is that lately we’re actually pretty much up there in the stakes of cool. I’d say, since Mandela, Nelspruit might even beat Idaho as a happening place to come from. So, Nelspruit guy, I hope when you’re old like me you’ll see the silliness of pretending to be something you’re not, drop the fake accent and embrace your roots. You’re more interesting than you think.